National leader Judith Collins accuses ACT's David Seymour of 'complete flip-flop' on COVID-19 vaccine mandates

ACT leader David Seymour has proposed regular testing as an alternative to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, which National's Judith Collins has described as "a complete flip-flop". 

The mandate for school staff to have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine came into effect on Monday and while ACT is pro-vaccination, Seymour believes there should be an alternative for those who refuse. 

"Mandates in specific sectors are a blunt way to lift overall rates, that should be done by an efficient roll-out boosting availability, and incentives. Regular testing can provide as much if not more reassurance to people encountering essential workers that they are safe," Seymour said on Monday. 

"ACT's preferred policy is to allow businesses to decide their own policy for vaccination; the option of regular testing as a substitute can be built into that."

Collins didn't seem too impressed.

"Well, number one he's changed his mind because he was all for mandating, so that's a complete flip-flop," she told Magic Talk on Monday.

"When it comes to things like schools and border-facing workers and health workers, we believe that is important that it be mandated and it's simply not going to be good enough for the rest of the public if they're unsure about accessing schools, for instance; that is going to be a problem if we have to say we'll test them all today. 

"We don't like mandates but we understand we need to have them at this stage and obviously once we get more people vaccinated and we finally get rapid antigen testing into the country, which is still effectively banned here, that would open up some options. 

"But at the moment, now is not the time to be coming out saying, 'Let's get rid of mandates in schools.'"

ACT leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Seymour told Newshub Collins was mistaken. 

"I think Judith might have misunderstood ACT's position, we're advocating the same policy used by Air NZ and Denmark. A vaccine or test mandate would reassure people they're safe without the division and disruption the Government is creating." 

Air New Zealand recently announced that from the middle of December, customers travelling domestically will need to be either fully vaccinated or provide evidence of a negative test, before departing.

"If it is good enough for Air New Zealand passengers flying around the country, is it not good enough for your midwife?" Seymour asked.

Collins herself had to clarify her position on vaccine certificates last month after she said she supported them but also didn't want "two classes of people" in New Zealand.

Her comments led to questions about the National Party's position on vaccination certificates, which are expected to be available this month. The certificates will allow vaccinated people to enjoy more liberties than those who choose not to be, once the new 'traffic light' system to replace the alert levels comes into effect. 

National leader Judith Collins and deputy Dr Shane Reti.
National leader Judith Collins and deputy Dr Shane Reti. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Collins later confirmed she only supported the use of vaccine certificates until 90 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated. When that goal is reached, it should be ditched, she said.

The Government has mandated COVID-19 vaccination for about 40 percent of the workforce and last week an estimated 2000 people marched on Parliament to express their outrage

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told The AM Show on Monday she was unaware of any school applying to the Ministry of Education for vaccine mandate exemptions. However, she said about 17 out of 1400 school bus routes were impacted.

"This was always because we have a group of New Zealanders, a large group of New Zealanders, who cannot be vaccinated - and they're our children," Ardern said. 

"The best way we can offer them protection, and also try and create a safe environment as much as possible in schools, is by having the adults who can be vaccinated, vaccinated."

Fire and Emergency New Zealand was last week granted a two-week extension to get its workforce vaccinated, with that mandate also due to come into effect on Monday.

You can read Newshub's 10 questions and answers on the vaccine mandate for teachers and healthcare workers here.